Sunday, 16 December 2018
Curry On Sea Men
Directed by James Wan
UK cinema release print.
Okay... so this was nothing like what I was expecting this movie to be. I was assuming this would be, like most of the other recent DC movies in this particular cinematic strand of continuity... something of a mess. As it is, this is easily one of the most engaging and entertaining of the DC universe films, second only to Wonder Woman (reviewed here). That being said, I can’t imagine any other superhero movie ever coming close to Wonder Woman in my lifetime so, yeah, I guess you can say I thought a lot of the new Aquaman movie, even though he really isn’t the Aquaman I used to love as a kid.
Aquaman stars Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry, the title character, reprising his role from Batman Vs Superman - Dawn Of Justice (reviewed here) and Justice League (reviewed here). He bookends the narrative with voice-over narrative telling a big story of political battles in the undersea kingdom which threaten all the non-ocean dwellers on the planet but, he comes at it through the eyes of his personal story and... this is something which hooked me in right from the start... he tells it from the angle of a love story. A love story between his dad, Tom, played by Temuera Morrison (who you might remember as Bobba Fett’s father Jango Fett, plus a bunch of clones of his character, in the prequel Star Wars movies) and his mother, Atlanna, played by Nicole Kidman.
And it’s quite charming and heart warming and from this simple, fish out of water start where Tom rescues Atlanna and cares for her in his lighthouse, I was completely hooked. There’s a wonderful action scene in said lighthouse where Nicole Kidman goes full-on warrior and bashes up a load of Atlanteans and then sacrifices her freedom to return to the oceans, leaving Tom to raise their child... who we soon see has lots of cool, undersea powers from his mother.
From then on we get two parts of the villainous plot introduced... as Black Manta, a modern pirate played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, is left hating Aquaman for reasons I won’t go into here while regular James Wan collaborator Patrick Wilson, as Aquaman’s half-brother King Orm, tries to persuade and manipulate wise King Nerreus, played by Dolph Lundgren, to raise up Atlantis, unite all the armies of the kingdoms of the oceans and wage war on the surface dwellers who have been polluting their oceans for centuries. Meanwhile, over the years, we have Orm’s advisor Vulko, played by Willem Dafoe, who has been secretly training Aquaman in his fishy ways over the years and Mera, played by Johnny Depp’s nemesis Amber Heard, reprising her role from Justice League, who wants Arthur Curry to find an ancient trident which will give him power to gain the kingship of the ocean and defeat Orm’s attempt to be Ocean Master.
So, basically, what we have is an action spectacular with a kind of road movie treasure hunt involving Aquaman and Mera, who are trying to gain the trident and avert disaster and... you know what? It’s a real fun ride.
James Wan is somebody I usually only associate with low budget, fairly high quality horror films but, it looks like he can really knock out a good, large scale action blockbuster if he’s given enough money to play with. Like Wonder Woman, the big action is matched by a very overt, emotional, beating heart which gives the audience something to invest in when the battle scenes come and this really took me by surprise since, frankly, the Aquaman character didn’t really get much of a chance to shine in Justice League. So the writers have really thought about this one and Wan has managed to pull it all together to make a very confident looking, big screen spectacle.
This is not the blond, short back and sides version of Aquaman I grew up with... reading him in his appearances in titles such as Justice League Of America and The Super Friends. I used to love the little Comic Action Heroes figure from Mego I had as a kid, despite the fact that my Uncle had squeezed it too hard one day and Aquaman’s leg would fall off whenever he went into action after that. So I was not very happy about the look of the character they’ve brought to the screen here but I really mellowed to it once I saw how well the film works. Also, there are a fair few throwbacks to those original Aquaman strips... including those little circles they used to draw to symbolise him talking to the creatures of the ocean and also, in the endgame of the picture, his old, colourful orange and ‘green gauntlets’ costume which I used to like so much.
Now, there are a couple of problems with the movie so let me just cover those here...
It’s been quoted many times over the years that ‘continuity is the hobgoblin of the small minded’. Well then call me small minded but I think story arc continuity is an important and much valued building block when fashioning a cinematic universe (or in any other kind of story medium, to be fair) and I got the feeling that if I were to sit down and re-watch Justice League right now, I’d find a couple of glaring mis-matches. However, there’s very little shout out to the former film, although it clearly takes place some time after that one and... they kind of get away with certain differences, I think.
The other problem is that it’s just too long... it kinda slumps about two thirds of the way through and the action scenes towards the end could have done with a fair amount of trimming it seems to me. Also, a more lengthy and personal fight between Orm and Aquaman may have been a little more satisfying. That being said, it didn’t detract form the sheer impact and brilliance of the film overall and I think this is definitely one of the DC films from this period which will be remembered in a positive light, providing audiences are willing to go and see it after the not so great Justice League.
But it also has a lot going for it... great acting, great story, some well choreographed action in the middle of the film and a beautiful score by Rupert Gregson-Williams, who also did such a great job on Wonder Woman. Also, it’s easily the most surreal of the contemporary DC movies, with characters riding armoured battle sharks, giant crabs and militarised crustacean people... it’s like if Salvador Dali was allowed to design the extended underwater battle from the James Bond film Thunderball (reviewed here) and did his own thing with it. Which is never going to be a bad thing.
Also, it’s got some amazing transition scenes in the movie including flashbacks which take you completely by surprise and a lovely transformation from a shot of a snow globe to the next narrative point in the story, fairly early on in the film. There’s some really nice stuff in here and I think James Wan has done a truly remarkable job cramming in all this great stuff in a compelling, visual way.
So yeah, that’s my take on Aquaman. There’s a mid post-credits scene which gives you some insight into where they might be going with a sequel and, if it does the numbers I’m hoping it does at the box office, then we should be seeing that at some point in the future (fingers crossed). If you’re, like me, wondering why the hell DC have been getting everything wrong lately other than Wonder Woman... well, wonder no more. If you decide to go and see Aquaman then you’re in for an aquatic treat. Thoroughly enjoyed this although, a quick ‘heads up’ to say that, since I saw this, I’ve found out it’s been cut under advice from the BBFC in this country... which means I’ll definitely be importing the Blu Ray from the US when it comes out, rather than buy the truncated, vandalised English version.